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Name a coast that’s treacherous to navigate, or a shallow area where an epic naval battle took place, and I’ll show you a ship graveyard that’s worth exploring. The beauty of wrecks is that they’re not only giant, waterlogged pieces of history, but also artificial reefs that teem with life. I'd recommend these four sites first.
Outer Banks, North Carolina
You might think of the Outer Banks as a magnet for kitesurfers and beachgoing hordes who cram the shoreline from Memorial Day to Labor Day. But the shoal-filled North Carolina coast was long ago nicknamed the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” for good reason. More than 1,000 known ships lie in the shallows here, dating as far back as the 16th Century. Morehead City is wreck-diving central. Charters there will take give you the pick of a handful of old freighters and tankers, and even a German U-boat. The visibility off the Outer Banks is remarkably clear, and since the water is relatively warm, the variety of marine life adds Technicolor to the dives.
Dive with: Olympus Dive Center
Key Largo, Florida
Even without the wrecks, the crystal-clear water surrounding Key Largo would make for one of the world’s most attractive dive sites. But it has the wrecks. Two 18th-century Spanish galleons, a 320-foot schooner, a 350-foot freighter, and two 327-foot Coast Guard Cutters are the appetizers, all resting 25 to 130 feet below the surface. The main course is the USS Spiegel Grove, a 510-foot U.S. Navy landing sunk at a depth of 130 feet in 2001 as part of an artificial reef project.
Dive with: Ocean Divers
Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands
This wreath of 23 islands protecting a 20-mile-wide lagoon in the Pacific was a nuclear test site for the United States in the 1940s and 50s. It's a graveyard for more than a dozen old Naval vessels—mostly in clear waters between 100 to 200 feet in depth. Bikini is also home to the granddaddy of all wreck dives. the USS Saratoga, an 850-foot-long aircraft carrier whose top deck sits just 40 feet below the surface. Access to Bikini Atoll is expensive and extremely limited, given its remote location.
Dive with: Scuba Safaris
Truk Lagoon, Micronesia
Truk is a 50-by-30-mile stretch of clear blue water protected by a shark’s fin of coral roughly 3,000 miles west of Hawaii. The lagoon and the 11 islands surrounding it served as the tip of the spear for the Japanese Navy during World War II, until the U.S. sank 60 of its ships there during a raid in February 1944. The wrecks still lie largely intact in the lagoon, many within 50 feet of the surface, and now host an abundance of sea creatures. Because the submerged old planes and ships are still leaking fuel, and Truk is considered a Japanese grave site, divers are expected to leave the wrecks undisturbed.
Dive with: Odyssey Adventures